Food safety fast track

by Joe Stout
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On a US interstate highway, cars travel rapidly from town to town risking accidents and hazards along the way. Likewise in the food industry, there are food highways with risks encountered as products travel from the raw area, through processing and into packaging. Goods must hurry safely along them to be placed in protective packages and then on to customers and consumers.

Controlling conveyance risk begins with good hygienic and functional design for the framework, drive components and belting. Questions should be asked and dutifully answered about how the conveyance system and belting will be cleaned. Is the belting material of construction cleanable to a microbial and allergen-free level? Is the system fully accessible for cleaning and inspection? These are key questions when designing a conveyance highway for food. A more cleanable design will help control potential risks.

Remember Dave Kramer’s famous (for simplicity) definition of sanitary design: “If you can’t see it, and you can’t reach it — you can’t clean it.” This is applicable to conveyance equipment.  

Whether for raw or ready-to-eat product conveyance, cleanability requires full access unless you design a true clean-in-place (CIP) layout.  The optimal design is to use positive-drive belting to enable simple belt lifts without worrying about tracking or tension releases. With belt lifts, a positive-drive belt can be easily elevated to ensure access for cleaning. A monolithic (single material) belt will eliminate the risk of fabric cords that often come to the surface in worn belting. These act as wicks for moisture, foster microbial growth and collect allergen hitchhikers.

Another important factor in conveyance system design and belt choice is matching the best belt to a specific application. How does the product run on the conveyor? Does it stick to a specific belt type? Does it track properly without risk of damage to belting, leading to belting material shedding into the product flow, which causes extraneous issues for consumers?

Does the food contact area of the highway offer harborage points to trap dough or crumbs, creating a microbial problem or an allergen issue at the next changeover? Eliminating this risk would require a conveyor system and belt designed to allow product to run cleanly through the system without debris being trapped throughout the production process. 

Sanitation is an important tool to control risks on the food conveyance highway. It is like a snow plow and salt during a Chicago winter — it keeps traffic moving without incident.

Cleaning frequency can be determined by a variety of inputs such as sensitivity, shelf life, buildup, allergen and non-allergen runs and possible other risks based on specific product types. A wet cleaning process is typically used for high-moisture products, while low-moisture foods allow dry cleaning methods. Whether wet or dry, both follow a seven-step regimen. Regardless of being wet or dry, the sanitation process has to be effective, efficient and validated to control risks during food product conveyance and protect the goods conveyed.

Speaking of system changes, an initiative in Wisconsin has raised the state’s highway speed limit to 70 mph from 65 mph.  Supporters cite improved designs of the highways, on and off ramps, and vehicles as the rationale. As a Wisconsinite, I am happy to hear of this potential modification in the law because our highways are well-designed.

Similarly, as a food safety sanitarian, I have seen a higher level of interest recently given to improved conveyor designs. I hope this shift will gain momentum and move the industry closer to my vision of a well-designed, easily cleaned and affordable food conveyance highway system, delivering impeccable, life-sustaining baked foods and snacks for consumers.

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